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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 837

Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. Do the vicious increases in postal and telephone charges, particularly those relating to country areas, disregard completely the fundamental elements of decentralisation? Did the Secretary of the Department of Urban and Regional Development recently propose to the Post Office Commission of Inquiry, on behalf of his department, that higher telephone charges be instituted in capital cities in order to make possible a reduction in the charges in country areas as an incentive to decentralisation? Is the Government concerned with decentralisation or not, and will the Postmaster-General say whether he will call for Treasury subvention of funds for his Department to reinstate previous concessions for non-metropolitan areas to give some equity to this section of the community, or take action along the lines advocated by the Department of Urban and Regional Development? If not, is he content to do nothing to relieve the burden on country areas which he and the present Government have created?

Mr Anthony - No tirade of abuse this time.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Well, no interjections. In answer to the honourable member, dealing with that part of the question which relates to a submission that was made to the Commission of Inquiry into the Post Office by the Urban and Regional Development group, I understand that that submission was made in the context that it would relate to designated growth centres. Following upon a question asked here earlier by the honourable member for Farrer, I say that when there is designation of the growth centres by the various State Governments and the acceptance of them, there will be an opportunity to implement the facility of granting concessions on a decentralisation basis. That will be done.

As to the other part of the honourable member's question which suggests that there is an imposition simply because people are in the country, that is not so. For example, pensioners receive the same pension rate in the country as they do in the city. Of course the previous Government discriminated against them on that basis. Further, the telephone concessions in the rural areas are mainly associated with primary production, which means that the charges are tax deductible. That advantage is not granted to city people. What was done and what is proposed to be done is merely to adjust the differential between the rentals so that the people who have the same access to the automatic telephone service will pay the same rental. From the point of view of economics the cost of providing services in the country is much greater that it is in the city.

The honourable member might look at the situation that he created when he wanted to put so much more money into country telephone lines and to finance it by increasing city rentals. That is not our proposition at all. We want to do it on the basis of what is fair and reasonable. It is true that there is a rapid growth in telephone communications. There is a problem in the country areas. They require much more money at this stage. There has been an imbalance in the sense that so much money has been spent on the basis that there could not be any return, with an overriding Treasury burden of paying interest on it. As has been said here already, since 1970 the previous Government devoted S30m to a country telephone lines policy. We are paying interest on that amount and are now losing over Sim a year. This cannot go on.

The Opposition's only approach to the problem was continually to increase tariffs both in postal and telecommunications without any consideration of how it was going to finance the policies on an economic basis. That is not the present Government's policy. A solution is not easy. The matter has been submitted to the Royal Commission for its findings.

Mr Anthony - Why do you not wait until the Commission gives its verdict?

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In answer to the interjection which the honourable member is so prone to make so often-

Mr Anthony - I have to against you because of your bias against country people.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why do you not get up and ask a question? From the point of view of the Commission, we have not really dealt with the whole tariff structure because we recognise that the Commission will make findings in that regard. When the Commission's report is available we will introduce those findings to this Parliament.

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